2013 Appropriations Process Is Up in the Air

If there's anything people can agree on in Washington, it is that the current budget process is broken. Congress has not passed a budget resolution since 2009, and even when they use the process, they are often late in doing so.

Now it appears that both chambers may end up forgoing budget resolutions again, although for very different reasons. The Senate seems to be unwilling to pass a budget, saying that the BCA numbers suffice for a budget. Meanwhile, the House majority is having trouble finding enough votes for a budget resolution because many want lower discretionary spending numbers than those specified in the Budget Control Act. 

The House fight involves varying desired levels of discretionary spending. The BCA cap level is $1.047 trillion for 2013, a level supported by some Republicans. However, many conservatives want to see a level about $20 billion lower, consistent with last year's budget resolution in the House. However, there is also the sequester that is set to go off on January 1, 2013, which would cut discretionary spending down to about $950 billion, so some members of the House also recommend cutting $20 billion off that number to $930 billion.

Some Republicans would like to avoid going lower than the BCA levels because it would complicate the appropriations process by making the Committees abide by a lower discretionary spending number than what is likely to be agreed to in both chambers. Thus, they would have to essentially do the process twice, once with the lower number and once with the agreed-upon number (likely the BCA level). They already had to do this last year.

Given disagreements among the Republican House Majority, none of the above levels of spending seem likely to pass the House without at least some Democratic support. Of course, if the budget resolution includes the same entitlement measures from last year, it is unlikely to get Democratic support, so the budget process is in limbo right now.